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America’s Finest clears review, can fish in U.S. waters

January 9, 2019
The America’s Finest fishing vessel was built by Dakota Creek Industries in Anacortes.

ANACORTES — The fishing vessel America’s Finest has been cleared to fish in U.S. waters following a Coast Guard review.

The review determined that neither Anacortes shipbuilder Dakota Creek Industries nor the buyer, Fisherman’s Finest, knew components of the ship violated the Jones Act, said Amy Midgett, media relations officer with the Coast Guard.

The review was the last step in a nearly year-and-a-half battle to secure a waiver that forgives Dakota Creek for using too much foreign-fabricated material in the hull of the $75 million ship.

The waiver was signed into law in December as part of the Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018.

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Dakota Creek Vice President Mike Nelson said. “I’m so used to waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

The waiver failed to get through Congress twice in the past two years.

The mistake in using too much foreign-fabricated material has cost Dakota Creek jobs, revenue and work opportunities, Nelson said.

The company let go more than half its employees since learning of the Jones Act violation, Nelson said previously.

“I don’t think we’ll ever really know what the full impact has been,” he said. “There’s probably opportunities we missed that we didn’t even know about.”

Now, Nelson said the company will begin to rebuild from its current 220 employees. He said the company hopes to hire about 50 people by the end of the year.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen helped champion the waiver for America’s Finest.

“The employees at Dakota Creek support a job-creating industry that strengthens national defense and fosters innovation and contributes to the maritime economy in Washington state and Alaska,” he said in a news release. “I am proud to be a part of giving the hard working employees at Dakota Creek a stronger future.”

At 264 feet, America’s Finest is the largest catcher and processor built in the U.S. in the past 30 years, Fishermen’s Finest President Dennis Moran said previously.

The waiver puts some limitations on the ship’s fishing capacity by capping the number of fish the vessel can harvest and deliver. The limitations also apply to two other Fishermen’s Finest vessels — the U.S. Intrepid and American No. 1.

The cap applies to 53 types of fish, which will need to be counted if caught. Moran said the cap will result in the company having to throw dead fish overboard.

“It’s complete nonsense and one of the worst wastes of fishing resources I’ve ever seen,” Moran said.

Navigating the limitations on all three boats will be an accounting nightmare, he said.

“That’s just the punishment that somebody in Congress decided to levy against our company, which is the victim of this mistake,” Moran said.

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